Arsenal 1-1 Fulham: Vermaelen at both ends
Team: Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker (Diaby 68), Vermaelen, Santos, Arteta, Song, Ramsey (Gervinho 68), Walcott, Van Persie, Arshavin (Chamakh 76)
The short report:
A run of straight wins and Robin Van Persie goals drew to a halt, perhaps no surprise that the two events coincided such has been our reliance on our captain. In that five game run of league wins only the West Brom result did not rely on at least one Robin Van Persie strike to secure the points. A jaded Arsenal had to come from behind to secure a point against a well organised Fulham, with our Champions League group match with Dortmund taking it's toll.
The AL report:
The team have fought back remarkably well in the past thirteen games, securing eleven wins. Continuity of selection has been a large reason for the turn around in fortune, that continuity has allowed Arsene to regularly select his first choice eleven, bar Wilshere and Sagna, whilst allowing new players such as Arteta, Santos and Mertesacker the opportunity to gel into the set up. However that sequence of fixtures and effort required to take maximum points with regularity seemingly took it's toll against Fulham having played that extra midweek match than their visitors.
It is a situation that will now be the test of this group, they have shown professionalism and team ethic but do the Gunners have the tools in depth to last it out in numerous competitions? That test will begin with the visit of unbeaten Manchester City in the Carling cup on Tuesday. With team freshness in mind Arsene Wenger made two changes brining in Johan Djourou to replace Laurent Koscielny as makeshift rightback and Andrey Arshavin to replace Gervinho, both substitutions looked entirely logical moves and both players did good job coming in from the cold.
Andrey Arshavin found the back of the net inside four minutes only for his well taken effort to be correctly ruled out, the Russian had strayed offside but the cooly taken finish was a welcome sight from a player Arsenal will be more reliant upon in coming months. The chance arose from a Van Persie through ball and the dutchman was at it again on 6 minutes feeding Aaron Ramsey's driving run into the box, the Welshman's stabbed lob not quite good enough to beat the tall Aussie keeper.
For the most part Fulham dropped deep and kept a rigid shape taking few risks in numbers committed forward in the first half, it was a ploy that worked with Arsenal unable to find their way through and create enough further chances to find a break through. A lack of tempo restricted Arsenal's effectiveness and threat. The biggest chance to follow came from a excellent burst from Theo Walcott on 23 minutes, pushing the ball past his opponent and running past on the opposite side. It's becoming a trademark move for Theo and his squared pass to Aaron Ramsey 12 yards out deserved a goal.
An early goal was of upmost importance given our physical condition, it didn't come and as the match drew on it became ever more difficult to make a mark against a Fulham side with good shape and organisation. The game did open up in the second half as a result of Fulham playing with more ambition, perhaps sensing the tiredness of their hosts and thus less risk in venturing forward. Arsenal would normally thrive in such circumstances with space to operate but the effects of Dortmund were taking their toll.
Fulham looked just as likely to score and did so on 65 minutes, an attempted clearance by Thomas Vermaelen trickled into the bottom right corner of the Szczesny's goal who did well to get a hand on it. Abou Diaby entered the field of play just moments later along with Gervinho, the former in particular brought the momentum and drive needed to force an equaliser. Johan Djourou almost found it on 74 minutes only to be thwarted with a point blank save from Schwarzer, and on 80 Robin Van Persie did the difficult work in taking an Andre Santos ball from the sky before beating his man and firing over.
On 81 minutes the leveller came, Walcott swung over an inviting cross and Thomas Vermaelen nodded home, you could see in his run how eager the Belgium stopper was to make amends for his earlier error. With 10 minutes or so remaining and Arsenal now visibly lifted a winner looked likely, the Gunners had a good shout for a penalty in the dying stages when Santos' shot was stopped at close range by Dempsey's raised arm.
Following the arrival of Per Mertesacker and return from injury of Thomas Vermaelen centre back Johan Djourou has been frozen out in his natural position, the Swiss international had enjoyed a strong start to last season in partnership with Koscielny before enduring a torrid end to last season. Johan has yet to convince at right back this term, struggling at Chelsea and Blackburn, and was at least part at fault for the goal against Dortmund but Djourou produced a solid display with a couple of brave diving blocks, a last ditch tackle ind the second half and was unlucky to be thwarted with a well connected header.
Man of the match
Theo Walcott takes the plaudits in a match of few candidates, he looked bright and full of running and deserved two assists. He got one when his beautifully whipped cross found the head of Thomas Vermaelen, earning Arsenal a point in the process.
Moan of the match
You would have to consider anything less than a win as points dropped in any circumstances when facing Fulham at home and with four of our rivals in action against each other and both ending in 1-1 draws, there is an element of missed opportunity. However given the run of positive results, and none more so than the group topping one against Dortmund fresh in the memory, it would be more than a touch harsh to be overly critical here. It would be difficult to pin the result on any particular mistake or decision.
The Final Word
Another salvaged point from a losing position, it's a good sign to see in contrast to last season. Maybe the Fulham match was one too far for a number of players whom have been relied upon a great deal, but there in lies the challenge for Arsenal: seamlessly integrating their supporting acts and taking the goalscoring burden off Robin van Persie.
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2011-12 | Match Reports